Olympian and X Games Slopestyle champion Anna and her Freeride World Tour, big mountain skiing sister, Nat Segal are Australian skiing royalty. Now living in Canada, they have explored fear and risk in the mountains and their different approaches to skiing in their film Finding The Line. They chat to Abigail Butcher about how skiing, and making the film, has changed their lives and their sibling relationship.
Abigail Butcher: When did you start skiing?
Anna Segal: We both started young – I was four and Nat was three. Mum was a skier, she worked as ski patrol in Europe and Dad just followed along. Every weekend they took us from Melbourne to Mt Buller, a three-and-a-half hour drive away. It became our passion from a young age.
AB: How did you start competing?
Nat Segal: Our parents were really great because they didn’t push us into things but were really supportive. Anna started racing then moved into freestyle and moguls, and I followed in her footsteps. She was my inspiration, I was always so enamoured by how Anna pushed the limits, doing inverted tricks. When she skied moguls I wanted to ski moguls – though I quit when I was 17 to focus on education while Anna started slopestyle competitions. I saw her doing backflips and hiking rails and I tried to keep up but I couldn’t! I went to do a season in Chamonix when I was 21, 10 years ago, and started a different kind of skiing.
AB: Your latest film Finding the Line is about fear. How do you both cope with fears in your skiing?
Nat: I remember watching Anna thinking she didn’t have any fear – she’d have a huge crash trying a 360 or 720 and get up and do it again. I would crash once and didn’t want to do it again – I didn’t like the discomfort. But then found myself doing things [on the Freeride and Freeskiing World Tours] that other people would see as scary but wasn’t uncomfortable for me.
Anna: I had fear of regret. I was still scared doing the tricks I did, but I am so determined (Mum calls me dogmatic) – I didn’t want that disappointing feeling of walking away; potential physical pain is better than not giving something ago. Sometimes that’s not a good thing, wanting something so badly it clouds your judgement.
AB: Has that changed as you’ve gotten older and since discussing your approaches to fear in the film?
Anna: I’m much better now. When I was younger it was ‘balls to the wall, go and get it’ and I thought training more and training harder was the best thing to do. But now I’ve discovered how to train smart. Nat has definitely influenced me – when I moved from slopestyle with manmade features to the backcountry, with the danger of crevasses and avalanches and so on, you can’t have that attitude or you’re going to die. I needed to start emulating Nat’s approach to skiing more – it was good to see how she weighed up the risks and odds.
AB: Have you always been such good friends and did making Finding the Line affect that bond at all?
Anna: When I was 16 and Nat 14 we became good friends. Before that we were average teenage sisters, but later on we started maturing and enjoying hanging out together. Since we started travelling we became really close. Now we are best friends and talk every second day.
The film tested our relationship but brought us closer. I’ve never had such intense fights with anyone, but we always said sorry, took responsibility, realised what we were doing wrong and made up. We had to be honest: you can walk away from a business partner or relationship but you can’t walk away from family.
AB: Your mum says she doesn’t worry about you in the film – has your family always been so supportive?
Nat: Our parents have both been incredibly supportive, but I had it easier. Anna was first out of the gates so she’d get a lot of flak when she got injured – “why are you doing this, you’re going to kill yourself!” type stuff. By the time I started competing they understood a little better and understood the risks.
AB: How important do you think skiing is for a family?
Anna: All sports have an element of being tough, but skiing does in particular: being in tough conditions and sharing that experience is invaluable. We were four kids all together and we used to ski in the rain for four hours, getting soaked to the skin. Mum used to put dishwashing gloves over our normal gloves, and being that cold and still loving it really brought us together. Then later everyone huddling round eating jackles [toasted sandwiches with spaghetti] before going back for more, it was magic. Mum is a medical professor and Dad a doctor so they both had stressful jobs, but they would still pile us into the car on Friday nights [as we headed to Mt Buller], they just loved having us all together.
Nat: Skiing is really playful and breaks down boundaries – even now it’s important as a shared experience. We lead our parents around the mountain and, especially off-piste, it’s a shared experience and there are conquering moments. They used to see us achieve things and now we get to see them achieve and overcome challenges too.
AB: How has the fear you talk about in the film changed as you get older?
Nat: I am tapping into my gut feeling a lot better now. I’ve always been afraid in life of missing out on an opportunity even if it doesn’t feel good, but I’m finding the courage now to say no. In the backcountry, if you’re skiing and feel a line isn’t safe, it’s the same, and you have to find the courage to say no. But it works vice versa, saying yes sometimes even though it feels really scary is good. Believing and finding the faith to go forward can be a triumph. Anna helped me to push forward and say yes to things. Decision-making and trusting yourself is a real process.
Anna: Going through painful and bad experiences with injury and knowing people who have passed away though skiing has made me more fearful: when you’re faced with something risky you revert to those experiences. When you’re younger and have no experience, ignorance is bliss. Fear is more up the front of my brain but I think I’m kinder with myself and can ask – is this fear relevant? I know when to back down and when things aren’t feeling good. Most of the times I’ve been hurt it’s been when my mind or body are fatigued and I haven’t listened to it. I can now step away.
AB: What does the future hold for you?
Anna: Nat and I still want to ski professionally for the next few years and are investing in things to more safely achieve our goals. We’re both doing our Avalanche Operations Level 1 and I’m doing the Wilderness First Responder course that Nat did last year. I would like to move into a producer role for more films – I loved producing Finding the Line.
Nat: I’m in a similar place. I moved to Pemberton, Canada, 18 months ago and it’s the first place I’ve lived full time in 10 years, so it’s lovely to be based in one place and get to really understand it while improving my hard and soft skills in the mountains. I’m really enjoying working on smaller projects – I have a film project on skiing in Armenia this year and would love to do a follow-up to Finding the Line.